Can you transform your notes and data into a powerful speech? Writing and speaking are vastly different . . . so here's how to tap into some presentation magic!
Can I interest you in helping you create an atmosphere of bewitchment concerning your in-person public speaking appearances?
How about creating some on-stage magic?
Did you cringe at the first sentence above but perk up at the second? If you did, you grasp a vital aspect of public speaking:
You can think in the clouds, but you'd better come down to earth to tell us about it.
Are you clear on language that can get in the way of your success? Download my free cheat sheet, "25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations."
Let's get even more practical than that. Let's discuss how you can take brilliant notes and data, and bring it home to audiences as impactful speaking.
Why We Start Our Speeches with Writing
Writing out our notes—and the process of refining them in an outline—is a necessary step because it helps us conceptualize. We use sentences to help us grasp the wholeness of the thought. The process of writing, in other words, is the process of thinking.
The problem (where public speaking is concerned) occurs if we try to bring what we've written in toto into the oral arena. We can't do that, because if we try, we're basically making one form of communication substitute for another—forcing a square peg, you might say, into a round hole. It's as though we're still conceptualizing through those wonderfully complex sentences, and trying to express it all in the shorter and more immediate rhythms of speech. If I were speaking about that thought, I'd put it this way:
We think in sentences, but we speak in ideas and emotions.
That means we need a template to transform our complex notes into the rhythms of speech. That's what the chart below helps us to do.
Writing v. Speaking
We're so well trained in reading and writing from our schools and institutions, that we founder where oral communication is concerned. We don't automatically consider how we can take, say, research and nicely edited notes and manuscripts, and translate them into accessible speech. (As I tell my clients, I call this situation job security for speech coaches.)
So here in a capsule are the differences between what works best in writing versus speaking.
Long sentences Short sentences
Complex structure Simple structure
"Dollar" words "Nickel" words
Building arguments Telling stories
Data and evidence Comparisons and metaphors
Extended time Real time
Verbal Nonverbal & verbal
When you speak, in other words, use short concrete impactful words (usually Anglo-Saxon over Latin). Make the structure simple and graspable in real time. Use metaphorical language, tell stories, and create word pictures. That's basically all of it.
The Power and Beauty of Small Words
We all know that the most powerful words in our language are pure and unadorned: love, trust, you, life, death, God, hate, glory. In essence, everything worth saying is worth saying 'small'—but finding the precise word is not a small thing. Mark Twain called it the difference between lightning and the lightning bug (or firefly).
As speech writer Richard Dowis put it in his book The Lost Art of the Great Speech:
Short words can make us feel good. They can run and jump and dance and soar high in the clouds. They can kill the chill of a cold night and help us keep our cool on a hot day. They fill our hearts with joy, but they can bring tears to our eyes as well. . . . Small words make us think. In fact, they are the heart and the soul of clear thought.
You'll have noticed that every word in that passage is a one-syllable word.
So now it's your turn. Boil those complex thoughts down into plain solid speech. (I was going to say "distill," but you'd have called me on it, wouldn't you?) And here's a tip that I think may be equally valuable: For your next talk, don't write anything down until you've said it out loud and heard for yourself whether it sounds right. Working that way should save you a ton of time.
Here are some performance tips for speaking from notes or a manuscript that you might also find helpful. But start with that boiling down. In a tribute to the recently passed, great writer Tom Wolfe, we might say you'll be going from the Write Stuff to the Right Stuff. Believe me, your talk will take off like a rocket.
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